“When it is peace, then we may view again
With new won eyes each other’s truer form
And wonder. Grown more loving kind and warm
We’ll grasp firm hands and laugh at the old pain,
When it is peace. But until peace, the storm,
The darkness and the thunder and the rain.”
C Hamilton Sorley
Charles arrived at last as the soup was served. He brought the chill of the night with him and appeared travel weary and near the limit of endurance. He crossed the room towards her and stopped. Lavinia stood, rooted to the spot, as he apologised to her and the guests and requested her immediate presence in the library.
At the Grange, just down the road, Christmas was different this year – it was the War! Mary shook out her curls in front of the mirror and waited for Jenny her maid to arrange then in a glossy pile on top of her head, as she frantically rubbed cream onto her chapped hands. She spent most of the time in the stables these days looking after the few remaining horses. It broke her heart to see the empty stalls and she’d wept for days after most of the horses were taken away. Then her brother went to the front: the war again – she was heartily tired of it all, and sick with worry. Where was Jenny? She rang the bell again, and remembered that Jenny was helping her mother dress. She picked up the brush and hairpins and made a start. A this rate she would be late for her first grown up dinner at the Hall. She wandered downstairs having done her best. Her mother stood in the hall with an officer in uniform.
Earlier that evening, Lavinia nervously wandered into the dining room at Blackwood Hall, and rechecked the table settings for the third time. It looked splendid, of course, she knew that Thompson, although elderly and long past retirement, had managed it all beautifully. She just wanted everything to be perfect for when her husband returned from the front. He’d managed a short leave six months previously, but he had stayed in London. Lavinia was pregnant with their first child he would not countenance her making the long journey to see him for such a brief time together.
The baby slept contentedly in the nursery upstairs unaware the father he had never met was coming home for Christmas. She had only invited a few local friends for dinner, feeling that Charles may find a large gathering too tiring.
Lavinia apologised to her guests opened the door to the library and found Charles, glass in hand and still wearing his coat, standing in front of the roaring fire, as if he could never be warm enough. “Darling, I’m so sorry but I can’t stay, I must go back tonight”.
“Charles, just please meet your son, he’s such a lovely child and..” Charles stopped her, with an anguished groan. “Darling I cannot truly explain but I do not want you, our son or this house to be tainted by the war or what I have seen and done. Please understand, I beg you, please”. She didn’t dare touch him, she sensed the strain and how close he was to breaking. So, she told him how much he meant to her and prayed for his safety, and that of his men.
She returned to the dining room and asked Thompson to continue serving the first course. The meal seemed interminable, although her friends were determined to behave as normally as possible and Lavinia was grateful for Mary’s chatter although she looked a little paler than usual.
Once they had left the gentlemen to their port, Mary begged Lavinia to see the baby. Approaching the door to the nursery Mary broke down and sobbed inconsolably.
Lavinia took the distressed girl in her arms and held her until she was ready to talk. Her brother was missing, presumed dead, although there was as yet no confirmation. “Mama says we must not give up hope”, she sobbed, “we must carry on for the sake of all the men fighting, and dying in this terrible war, we must stay strong for them, it’s the only thing we can do”.
Lavinia kissed her hair and wept softly with her. They went in together to check on the sleeping baby, and prayed he would grow up in peaceful times.